The tears and honesty are engaging, but the humans are doggone movie characters
Out of all the actors to voice dogs this year alone (Bryce Dallas Howard in “A Dog’s Way Home” and Josh Gad In “A Dog’s Journey”), Kevin Costner voices the smartest dog of the year in “The Art of Racing in the Rain.” He’s smart because he studies the humans, and quickly acknowledges their behaviors without relying on only the typical dog cliches. He’s even smarter than the animals in “The Secret Life of Pets 2” for that matter.
Unfortunately, these dog movies don’t have that kind of “Homeward Bound” and “Milo and Otis” quality I’ve seen growing up. The humans in the movie are well-acted, but to me, they appear only as movie/TV characters. That means they have to follow the rules of a family drama: a dream, a death, and a custody battle.
The dream belongs to race car driver Denny Swift (Milo Ventimiglia), who teaches racers, and has a goal of making it to the big leagues. He adopts a golden retriever, and names his Enzo (voiced by Costner), after Enzo Ferrari. And the dog uses the TV to help him understand the concept of life, especially the televised races.
Denny then marries an English teacher named Eve (Amanda Seyfried), and they have a daughter named Zoe (Ryan Kiera Armstrong). These two girls believe in his dreams more than her father (Martin Donovan).
The death belongs to Eve, who suffers from a brain tumor, and loses the battle. That’s when the tears really come in. You actually feel something for these characters in this segment.
But that has to end when the custody battle for Zoe comes in. And it’s all because of another law: the girl’s father has to dislike his son-in-law’s choice of career. That gets really old and exhausting.
And throughout every trick in the family drama encyclopedia, Enzo learns to adapt to his situations, and even guides Denny on the right path. They both never give up.
“The Art of Racing in the Rain” may be based on Garth Stein’s book, but I think these kind of dog movies can do more than just narrate the events of their own lives. Enzo could be Denny’s guardian angel, if only he can understand. You don’t have to use special effects; but maybe he could read his dog’s thoughts, like in the “Garfield” comics and cartoons.
Kudos to Costner for using his voice and gifts to convince us he’s a wise old dog with tricks of his own. And Ventimiglia and Seyfried both deliver some sweet supporting work as his owners. They’re all wonderful, but they need to be people and not movie characters.
Director Simon Curtis, screenplay writer Mark Bomback, and producers Patrick Dempsey and Neal H. Mortiz should all do more than just make the dog the narrator and the characters the rule followers. I’m not the fan I was hoping to be, but I give these people credit for making this canine smarter than the other dog characters in 2019.